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7 Dec, 2021 18:42

The huge clue suggesting Djokovic could play at Australian Open despite vaccine row

The huge clue suggesting Djokovic could play at Australian Open despite vaccine row

World number one Novak Djokovic has been named in Serbia's team for January's ATP Cup event in Sydney, stoking speculation that he may be available to play at the Australian Open in spite of organizers' vaccine mandates.

The Serb has been utterly dominant at the Australian Open in recent years, winning each of the last three tournaments and nine overall – and another victory in late January at Melbourne Park would stand him alone as the most successful player in history with 21 Grand Slam wins. 

Djokovic's participation, though, remains in doubt after he refused to reveal his vaccination status amid strict guidelines from Tennis Australia requiring all players to be fully immunized against Covid-19 in order to compete.

If Djokovic is to play at the ATP event and is unvaccinated, he would be required to undergo 14 days of isolation upon his entry into New South Wales, while the state government would be required to apply for a vaccine exemption for the 34-year-old star.

The government in the Victoria region of which Melbourne is the capital have repeatedly stated that they will not be applying for exemptions for any player hoping to participate in the first Grand Slam event of 2022. 

Tennis reporter Ben Rothenburg said that Djokovic's inclusion in Serbia's five-man team – alongside Dusan Lajovic, Filip Krajinovic, Nikola Cacic and Matej Sabanov – seems to suggest he may have taken the treatment or intend to become vaccinated soon.

Speaking in October, Djokovic admitted that he did not know whether he would attempt to defend his title for a third successive campaign.

“I will not reveal my status, whether I have been vaccinated or not – it is a private matter and an inappropriate inquiry," he told Blic.

“People go too far these days in taking the liberty to ask questions and judge a person. Whatever you say – ‘yes, no, maybe, I am thinking about it’ – they will take advantage.”

However, one alternate viewpoint is that Djokovic could have committed to participate in order to help ensure that Serbia qualify for the event before pulling out, as qualification is based upon the ranking of each nation's best player.

In the even of a Djokovic withdrawal before the tournament, Serbia would remain eligible to compete.

While questions remain around Djokovic's involvement, one man who definitely won't be taking part is his Grand Slam rival Rafa Nadal, who continues to struggle with back and foot injuries.

The 2009 Australian Open winner said that he hopes to play an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi as a warm-up for the first Grand Slam of the year.

Russia will be led by world number two and US Open winner Daniil Medvedev and have landed in Group B, where they will take on Italy, Austria and the host nation.